Text from catalog for Paperworks @ The Craft and Folk Art Museum, Los Angeles, 2015-16

“Chris Oatey explores paper as a medium for gestural mark-making, for drawing pictures, and for making sculptures, installations, and wallpaper. For him, paper and the numerous technical manipulations that he subjects it to, as well as the forms that ensue, are intrinsically and powerfully attractive to his imagination. Curiously his initial forays into the medium were not primarily focused on formal and technical issues; they were pictorial and narrative. These early works were drawings (of a sort) based on newspaper and magazine photographs or video stills that he printed out. The subjects included such “iconic” images as the annual running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, and journalistic coverage of natural disasters and historic photographs.

To make his drawn images of these appropriated pictures, Oatey deployed sheets of carbon paper-a once ubiquitous, now nearly obsolete, office supply for making typewritten documents in duplicate versions using a piece of pigment coated paper sandwiched between two pieces of blank paper: the pressure of the typewriter imprint (or handwriting) on the top sheet simultaneously transfers the visual information to the bottom sheet, making a second copy. (Carbon paper faded from use with the rise of copy machines in the 1960’s; surprisingly, in our digital age, with its aspiration to a “paperless office”, carbon paper is still available-but, ironically, almost exclusively through online sources.) In a laborious-perhaps compulsively laborious-procedure, Oatey placed sheets of carbon paper on a blank expanse of drawing paper, then placed his photographic source material atop the carbon paper and, making tiny hand-drawn circles, mimicked the Ben-Day printing process of newspaper photoengraving that uses countless minute ink dots to produce printed likenesses of a subject’s image, shading, and texture. In his physically and mentally exhausting technique, Oatey went the photomechanical process one better: he produced patterns within patterns so that some of his pictures also revealed gridded zones of differently dotted intensity.

All of this is a method of image reproduction that has little to do with Oatey’s current work; but these early explorations catalyzed his interest in paper’s particular properties to carry and transmit visual information-or to simply be itself, as he worked with it. Over time he became more “clinically” interested in paper’s unique properties. In intermediate works he used carbon compound to produce nearly black sheets of paper that he had purchased as white. He then crumpled them up, mounted them in box frames, and displayed them as sculpture. With their wrinkled surfaces and meteorite-like shapes they are oddly compelling to look at as art objects. Subsequent bodies of work involved wallpaper expanses that might be crumpled as freestanding masses or mounted in a gallery space, sometimes traversing corners that led to other spaces. Another project from 2010 took the form of hand-striped paper patterned with gesturally-generated marks-displaying precisely an imprecision not found in industrially manufactured wallpaper.”

-Howard Fox